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Aldous Huxley on How to Write Forward




Aldous Huxley had something to say about art and how its longevity stands for proof that art—and the way that we grapple with it—doesn’t change. Art and psychology are inexorably linked. Today’s post is a simple one. In 1958, Aldous Huxley wrote a foreword to his 1932 publication, Brave New World. There’s a passage in the foreword that’s particularly striking, so in this post, we chose to deconstruct the passage. Huxley discusses the intertwining of art, morality, and how art ages. He answers the question: when is it time to leave well enough alone?


“Art also has its morality, and many of the rules of this morality are the same as, or at least analogous to, the rules of ordinary ethics. Remorse, for example, is as undesirable in relation to our bad art as it is in relation to our bad behavior. The badness should be hunted out, acknowledged shortcomings of twenty years ago, to attempt to patch a faulty work into the perfection it missed at its first execution, to spend one’s middle age in trying to mend the artistic sins committed and bequeathed by that different person who was oneself in youth—all this is surely vain and futile. And that is why this Brave New World is that same as the old one. Its defects as a work of art are considerable; but in order to correct them I should have to rewrite the book—and in the process of rewriting, as an older, other person, I should probably get rid not only of some of the faults of the story, but also of such merits as it originally possessed. And so, resisting the temptation to wallow in artistic remorse, I prefer to leave both well and ill alone and to think about something else.”

—Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, foreword, 1958 edition


“Art also has its morality, and many of the rules of this morality are the same as, or at least analogous to, the rules of ordinary ethics.”


Annie: This part of the passage is fairly straightforward. You view art the same way you view anything in your life. Art is not something to be separated out and deemed above/beyond/better. It does not make for elitism, nor should one be forced into suffering for its creation. In art’s creation, we adhere to standards of humanism in the same way we would elsewhere in our lives. We are art, and art is us.


“Remorse, for example, is as undesirable in relation to our bad art as it is in relation to our bad behavior. The badness should be hunted out, acknowledged shortcomings of twenty years ago, to attempt to patch a faulty work into the perfection it missed at its first execution, to spend one’s middle age in trying to mend the artistic sins committed and bequeathed by that different person who was oneself in youth—all this is surely vain and futile.”


Annie: I feel that this section carries two sentiments. You don’t want to write something that doesn’t carry the weight of your passion, because this can and likely will lead to remorse in the future. Creating to trends of the time may only lead to lack of fulfillment down the road when you look back at your output. In the same vain, work not executed to its fullest extent can lead to the same regret.


Annie: I recently sat in on a live Q & A session with a literary agent, and she discussed the prerequisites for manuscript queries. One of most interesting points she mentioned was that a manuscript in the hands of an experienced writer needs at least five drafts before the query should even be pitched. For a new writer, it needs many more than that, and should include several rounds of beta reads. Her ultimate point was that a queried manuscript needs to be considered absolutely done before it is submitted to an agent. Huxley’s quote reflects this, too. Be done with the work, be proud of the work, and be ready to acknowledge that you will grow in many ways; not only as a writer, but as a person.


“And that is why this Brave New World [the 1958 version] is that same as the old one. Its defects as a work of art are considerable; but in order to correct them I should have to rewrite the book—and in the process of rewriting, as an older, other person, I should probably get rid not only of some of the faults of the story, but also of such merits as it originally possessed.”


Annie: Thus, when asked in the 1958 version to consider revision of his 1932 publication, Huxley declined. Art is and can be as ever-changing as we are. If we consider art fluid, but our publications static, then we have to accept the fact that each piece will represent us at a time point in our lives. Each piece will hold our faults of a given time, but also our strengths, both of which are subject to change.


“And so, resisting the temptation to wallow in artistic remorse, I prefer to leave both well and ill alone and to think about something else.”


Annie: The artist that can see a project through and then move to the next is one likely one that accepts life in its entirety. I’ll admit, I ebb and flow, as I’m only human. I struggle with one particular novel that was never published, nor even “finished” beyond a few drafts… it’s one that I could make better if I only gave it the time. But, newer projects call me forward, and those carry more significance. Those past, cast-off projects will always be the weight of old writing lovers, good times remembered, struggles set aside, only ever considered with rose-shaded memories.


Annie: And thus, I write on.


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